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Anthem Pre-reading Activities and Lessons

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Here are 15 Anthem pre-reading activities and lessons to prepare your students for Ayn Rand’s novella.  Since you have specific goals for your teaching, I am including a wide range of pre-reading lesson options.

Anthem pre-reading activities overview:

  1. Design a Perfect Society
  2. Anthem Anticipation Guide
  3. Cold War Cartoons
  4. Dystopia Short Stories
  5. Individuality Skits
  6. Historical Context
  7. Sticker Economics
  8. Extraordinary Settings and Theme
  9. Visual Symbols vs. Literary Symbols
  10. Propaganda Gallery
  11. Practice with Motifs and Symbols
  12. Historical Attempts at Utopia
  13. Anthem‘s Allusions (Rand’s source materials)
  14. Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”
  15. Internal Conflicts / External Conflicts

Anthem pre-reading lesson 1: Design a Perfect Society

Into:  Human beings tend to live in societies.  The members of the society live together based on shared values, rules, expectations, and practices.  What are the biggest problems that you see with our society?

Through: Have the students collaborate in groups in order to create a blueprint for a more perfect society. Each group should address these topics:

Basic Info. (round 1)

  • Name of society
  • Goals and values (On what is the society based? What ideals are most important?)
  • What is life like for the people of this society?

In-depth Info. (round 2)

  • Economy (How do people get what they need? How is wealth determined?)
  • Government (Who is in control? How are decisions made? What are the responsibilities of the government? What are the limits of governmental power?)
  • Individuals (What rights do people have? What are the limits on personal freedom? How are disputes settled?)

Writing:  Many nations have resulted from revolutions attempting to create a more perfect society.  Is it possible that humans can find the perfect recipe? What is stopping us?

Closing: Explain that for thousands of years philosophers, social scientists, and leaders have been thinking about how to make a perfect society.  People are often trying to improve society, but there have also been revolutionary changes. In Anthem, Ayn Rand imagines a society based on some very interesting rules, including the abolition of singular personal pronouns (I, me, my, mine, his, her, etc.)

Anthem pre-reading activity 2: Anthem Anticipation Guide

Anthem Anticipation guide PDF

Click here for the Anthem Anticipation Guide PDF.

Use the Anthem anticipation guide to get students thinking about the key theme subjects in Anthem with questions about the value of names, core personal beliefs, individuality, social responsibility, and freedom.  Consider having the students work in groups to present their thoughts on one of the five topics.

Anthem pre-reading lesson 3: Cold War Cartoons

Into: In a capitalist economy, individuals can own and control capital (money and resources) and the means of production (factories, machines, etc.) This results in some being “haves” and some being “have-nots.” What are some other ways that an economy might work?

Explain the ideological conflicts of the 20th century as necessary

Through:   The class will analyze the symbols and themes shown in competing propaganda cartoons.  Stop after each clip and ask students to identify the symbols and themes.

Writing: Explain some of the symbolism shown in the Cold War cartoons. Why do you think each country found it so important that everyone in their society agreed?  If their way of life was so great, what were they worried about?

Additional resources:

Anthem pre-reading activity 4: Dystopia Short Stories

Anthem pre-reading activity short stories

This Anthem pre-reading activity primes students with some short dystopia narratives.  I like to have students read one dystopia short story as a group and present their analysis to the class.

Click here for the assignment page (PDF)

Authors often use unusual or outlandish settings to present their themes. Often in these narratives, the setting is a dystopia. (Dystopia: an imagined state or society in which there is great suffering or injustice, typically one that is totalitarian or post-apocalyptic.)

Your group will select one dystopia story to read, analyze, and present.  You will be graded on how well you present analysis and collaborate.

Distopia Short Stories

“The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson

           A town follows a grisly and mysterious tradition.

“The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury 

          What happens when people are used to getting whatever they want?

“2BR02B” (The zero is pronounced “naught”) by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. 

          What would happen if people could live for centuries?

“Just Do It” by Heather Lindsey

          How far will advertisers go? (A little rough language in this one)

“The Perfect Match” by Ken Liu

          What happens when Alexa or Siri go too far? (This one is a bit longer.)

“Examination Day” by Henry Slesar 

          The government takes extreme measures in making sure that everyone is intelligent.

Presenting on key ideas and details:

  • Title Page (Include the title, the author, and when it was written.)
  • Setting
  • Plot summary
  • Theme(s) (What is the author’s message on life and humanity?)
  • 3 Key narrative elements / techniques: (symbol, dialogue, foreshadowing, etc.)
  • Key excerpts (with analysis)
  • Conclusion

Anthem pre-reading lesson 5: Individuality Skits

Anthem pre-reading lesson skit

Common Core standards:

  • W3 Narrative Writing
  • SL1A Comprehension and Collaboration (preparation)
  • SL1B Comprehension and Collaboration (decision making)

Each student group will write and perform a one-scene play.  The scene must relate to the idea of individuality.  It may be set in the past, present, or future. 

You will be graded on how well your play demonstrates narrative elements (especially a theme). It need not be a complete narrative, but it should seem like part of a complete narrative.  You will also be graded on your collaboration skills.

Individual stage:

  • What is your point of view on the meaning and value of individuality?
  • Brainstorm three ideas that could form a scene on your theme.
  • Choose your best idea and summarize the setting, characters, plot, and theme.

Group stage:

  • Set rules for decision making and discussions and record them.
    • How will you share ideas and select a final choice?
    • How can suggestions be offered by everyone?
    • How will roles and responsibilities be determined?
    • How will disagreements be settled fairly?
  • Share proposals.
  • Plan the final idea. Make sure to determine the main theme and the key elements (dialogue, symbol, internal conflict, etc.)
  • Set roles and responsibilities.

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Anthem pre-reading activity 6: Historical and Ideological Context

Anthem pre-reading research

This Anthem pre-reading assignment is fairly straightforward.  Have students conduct a short research project to become familiar with the context that inspired Rand’s novella.  You could broaden the scope of the research to include Rand’s source materials (see Anthem pre-reading activity 13).

Determine how formal you wish the research/presentation to be.  You might require students to pose and refine inquiry questions, record research notes, and use in-text citation.

Anthem research topics:

Context of Anthem research assignment page (PDF)

Connect to the author:

Ayn Rand was born in Russia and was twelve when the revolutions began (1917).  She experienced the turn to communism first-hand. The turmoil was difficult for her family (bourgeoisie); the government took their pharmacy business.  When she came to the United States in 1926, she decided that she had to stay.

She has been criticized by many as prejudiced, hypocritical, and immoral.  Students will have to decide for themselves what they think of the messages in Anthem.

Anthem pre-reading activity 7: Sticker Economics

Sticker economics student activity

Into: Why are the rich rich? Explain how people can become wealthy in a capitalist society.  Some ways are based on effort and/or ability and other ways are fortuitous (based on luck).

Through: Have a trivia contest as a class. Explain that this demonstration is an analogy for economics.  This competition will have a capitalist round and a communist round. (The nature of the questions is unimportant, but they should be moderately difficult.)

Note: If you are short on time or do not wish to put students on the spot, you might choose a handful of volunteers to participate in the demonstration.

In the capitalist round, each student answers until they get an answer wrong, and they receive their earnings (some token reward) individually.  The communist round is identical except that the winnings go to a collective total. When the communist round ends, all players receive an equal share.

Writing: Ask students to reflect on the game.

  • How did the results differ between the two rounds?
  • In which round did you earn more?
  • Which round was fairer? Why?
  • How would the game be different if everyone started with different amounts?
  • How would the game be different if the points were based on real sacrifice rather than just answering questions?
  • How is this game an analogy?

Anthem pre-reading activity 8: Extraordinary Settings and Theme

Anthem pre-reading assignment setting

This Anthem pre-reading activity prepares students to analyze an author’s use of an extraordinary setting in developing a theme.  There are many great fantasy / science fiction / dystopia narratives to choose from, but this assignment uses “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury.

All Summer in a Day assignment

Anthem pre-reading activity 9: Visual Symbols vs. Literary Symbols

RL2 Key Ideas and Details (theme development)

Into: Use a slideshow to display popular or interesting visual symbols. Have the students yell out what the symbol represents.  Encourage them to express abstract ideas, feelings, and connotations.

Explain that visual symbols can represent abstract thoughts or powerful feelings but that literary symbols can be more complex.  Literary symbols can have multiple, complex, or even opposing meanings.

Through: Have the students work in groups to create posters.  Each group must present one visual symbol and one literary symbol.  The literary symbol can be from a book, poem, song, short story, comic book, film, or even TV show.  They might analyze the mockingjay in The Hunger Games, the apple in Snow White, onions in Shrek, Edgar Allen Poe’s raven, and so on.

Groups must write a brief analysis of both symbols and present to the class.  Remind them to think about multiple meanings and connotations.

Examples of literary symbols in popular culture:

The bat in Batman Begins represents the fear Bruce Wayne wants to instill but also (and secretly) his own trauma and fear.  It represents his control of his fears.

The Scarlet Carson rose in V for Vendetta represents the protagonist’s slowly cultivated revenge, his memories of beauty, and, in one scene, his mercy.

The mockingjay in The Hunger Games represents the power of the oppressors, the fragility of the rebellion, and the heroine herself.  The mockingjay is a genetic creation of the government that the resistance ingeniously uses to defend themselves. The government has created both the bird and the heroine that will defeat them.

Anthem pre-reading lesson 10: Propaganda Gallery

Anthem pre-reading activity propaganda gallery 1

In the society of Anthem, The World Council uses propaganda to indoctrinate (brainwash) the people. On another level, the novella itself is a piece of propaganda.

Your group will present a piece of Cold War propaganda for the class.  You will be graded on how well you present your analysis of point of view, reasoning, and rhetoric.

Key Terms
Propaganda: information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.

Fallacy: faulty reasoning; misleading or unsound argument.

Bias: An unfair prejudice (pre-judging).

Rhetoric: language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience.

Types of appeals: different ways to persuade people.

  • Ethos / ethical appeals (concepts of right and wrong)
  • Pathos / emotional appeals (based on feelings like anger, sympathy, or joy)
  • Logos / logical appeals (based on sound, practical reasons)

Finding great examples of propaganda:

10 Examples ready to print or project (PDF)

Soviet propaganda from PBS News

“A Visual Guide to the Cold War” from University of North Carolina

Anti-Communist propaganda from Gizmodo

Communist propaganda posters from Huffington Post

Soviet propaganda from The Guardian

Cold War propaganda gallery from Boston University

Analyzing and presenting:

  • Purpose and audience
  • Theme / message
  • Point of view
  • Word choice
  • Graphic design (colors, fonts, visual hierarchy, etc.)
  • Appeals (logos, pathos, ethos)
  • Fallacious reasoning (E.g., “Scientists estimate that 87,000 people were drinking milk in California before the earthquake. Drinking milk causes earthquakes.”)

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Anthem pre-reading activity 11: Practice with Motifs and Symbols

It is beneficial to have students practice with symbolic elements (motifs and symbols) as an Anthem pre-reading activity.  There are thousands of short stories loaded with symbolic elements, but I recommend “The Cask of Amontillado” by Edgar Allen Poe.

Symbols and motifs practice assignment

Anthem pre-reading activity 12: Historical Attempts at Utopia

Anthem pre-reading lesson Oneida colonists
The Oneida colonists

Choose a topic: There are many ways to start your inquiry, but you might start with a utopia category: ecological, economic, secular, religious, science and technology, feminist, etc.

Specific examples

  • Hancock Shaker Village (1783)
  • Ephrata Cloister (1732)
  • Brook Farm (1841)
  • The Oneida Community (1848)
  • Arcosanti (1970)
  • The Harmony Society (1805)
  • New Harmony (1825)
  • The San Francisco Diggers (1966)
  • Drop City (1965)
  • The Amana Colonies (1856)
  • Brasilia (1956)
  • Equality Colony (1902)
  • Pyramidin (1927)
  • Auroville (1968)
  • Kibbutzim (1909)
  • Rajneeshpuram (1981)
  • The Communist Manifesto (1848)
  • The People’s Republic of China (1949)
  • The Peoples Temple Agricultural (1973)
  • Ecovillages (1991)

Anthem pre-reading activity 13: Anthem‘s Allusions

Literary Allusion in Anthem by Ayn Rand

Explain the importance of allusions in Anthem.  Rand relies heavily on source materials in communicating her message.  Rand was an atheist, but she uses (and inverts) religious allusions throughout Anthem.  Students should pay attention to these references as they read.

You may find it helpful to have students research and present on the following source materials:

  • Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”
  • Greek mythology
    • Prometheus
    • Narcissus 
    • Gaia
  • The Old Testament of The Bible
    • Genesis (Adam, Eve, and the Garden of Eden)
    • Moses (Mt. Sinai and the Exodus)
  • The New Testament of The Bible
    • Jesus and his disciples

Anthem pre-reading activity 14: Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”

Getting philosophical as a class is always interesting.  Prepare students for this allusion in Anthem by discussing Plato’s thoughts. Rand inverts Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” by having the protagonist discover his truth within the darkness of the cave.  Equality finds the truth through the independent introspection enabled by the tunnel.

Warm-ups:

Psychologists are always exploring how our minds play tricks on us.  Our memories and perceptions are often incorrect. What are some ways that people can be deceived by their minds?

Is it better to have knowledge of the truth and suffer for it or to stay in happy ignorance? Would you choose to be wiser than everyone else and unhappy or as ignorant as everyone else and happy?

After reading Plato’s allegory, have students share their analysis of what Plato is saying about truth and reality.  Do they agree with Plato’s understanding?  

Anthem pre-reading activity 15: Internal Conflicts / External Conflicts

Internal and external conflicts practice

Before reading Anthem, make sure that students have a firm understanding of conflict in narrative – especially how internal and external conflicts can be inextricably linked.

Have the students work in groups to analyze a story (their choice) where the internal and external conflict are interwoven.  Groups should share their conclusions with the class.

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Anthem pre-reading review:

  1. Design a Perfect Society
  2. Anthem Anticipation Guide
  3. Cold War Cartoons
  4. Dystopia Short Stories
  5. Individuality Skits
  6. Historical Context
  7. Sticker Economics
  8. Extraordinary Settings and Theme
  9. Visual Symbols vs. Literary Symbols
  10. Propaganda Gallery
  11. Practice with Motifs and Symbols
  12. Historical Attempts at Utopia
  13. Anthem‘s Allusions (Rand’s source materials)
  14. Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave”
  15. Internal Conflicts / External Conflicts

Additional considerations before starting your study of Anthem

Anthem unit cover alternate

Although this info. does not fit neatly into a lesson, it is important to make sure that the students are familiar with the…

Goals of the unit

Explain why this piece of literature has been selected and what you hope students will gain.

Theme subjects in Anthem

  • Equality / hierarchy
  • Natural (ideal) state of humanity
  • Freedom / personal expression
  • Seeking truth
  • Individuality / collectivism

Key standards to master

Which standards form the backbone of your instructional unit?  Are you emphasizing analysis of propaganda and rhetoric? Word choice? Allusions and source materials? Characterization? Symbolic elements?

What culminating task(s) will students undertake in order to demonstrate mastery?

Reading schedule and expectations

The reading schedule that I recommend can be found in Anthem Unit Plan.

Learning support

Make sure that students know what support is available to them.  Suggest strategies for success.  Have interventions prepared in advance.

Expectations for sensitive content

Remind students that exploring a piece of controversial literature is by no means an endorsement of the ideas presented.  You do not need to accept Rand’s ideas to benefit from analyzing them. The Language Arts classroom is a place to offer your points of view and consider the points of views of others. Discussions should be supportive, constructive, and respectful.

Content concerns in Anthem:

  • Sexuality (not explicit)
  • Torture
  • Execution
  • Worship of the self above all else
  • Sexism (Rand’s portrayal of Liberty offensive to many.)
  • Strong language: “damned”

Related post: Anthem Reading Quizzes

Related post: 10 Activities for Teaching Anthem by Ayn Rand

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